Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Grande Dame

The second in a series of posts looking at formidable Tudor women.

30 October is an important date for the early Tudors. Aside from being the anniversary of Catherine de Valois’s son, Henry VI, retaking the English throne in 1470, it is also the anniversary of the coronation in 1485 of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch.

Henry VII was the grandson of Catherine de Valois and Owen Tudor. His parents were their elder son Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort.

Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII

Edmund and Margaret married on 1 November 1455 when the bride was probably twelve years old. The Wars of the Roses had recently started and less than a year after the marriage, Edmund was captured by Yorkist forces. He died of plague in captivity on 3 November 1456, leaving his 13 year old widow seven months pregnant.

On 28 January 1457 Margaret gave birth to their son. Margaret was young and small and it was a particularly difficult labour and for a time it was feared that both mother and child would die. However, both survived, and she named her son Henry.

Henry VII

Although Margaret married twice more, she would have no more children, perhaps as a result of complications after this birth. Her second husband was her first cousin Henry Stafford. They married in 1462 and she was widowed in 1471. Her third marriage was to Thomas Stanley in 1472.

It was her son, though, who was the focus of Margaret’ attentions. She plotted with Elizabeth Woodville, widow of Edward IV and mother of the Princes in the Tower (by then both boys were presumed dead) against Richard III. The two women decided to marry Margaret’s son to Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, also named Elizabeth. This marriage would unite the twin claims to the English throne as Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV represented the Yorkists and Henry was the last Lancastrian claimant to the throne.

Elizabeth Woodville

On 22 August 1485, Henry’s forces met Richard’s at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Although Richard’s army was superior in numbers, Richard himself was killed in the battle and many of his supporters fled. When the dead king’s crown was found (according to legend, in a thorn bush), Henry was crowned with it.

On 18 January 1486, Henry followed his mother’s advice and married Elizabeth of York at Westminster. Margaret’s influence over her son, however, was not eclipsed by his new wife. She was given titles and, unusually for a married woman, allowed to own property in her own right. Technically, the royal pecking order places Margaret lower than her daughter in law Elizabeth of York, the new queen, and Elizabeth Woodville, who as Edward IV’s widow was the queen dowager. Perhaps at Margaret’s insistence, Elizabeth Woodville was banished from court in 1487. Margaret refused to walk further behind the queen than half a pace, indicating that she only grudgingly acknowledged the latter’s superiority.

Elizabeth of York

Margaret continued to be a dominant influence on the new king. She was known for her piety and good sense and when her son predeceased her on 21 April 1509, she was named regent for his son, Henry VIII. Her stint at direct power, rather than behind the scenes influence, was brief though. Henry VIII turned 18 on 27 June and his formidable grandmother died two days later.

Margaret Beaufort

9 thoughts on “Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Grande Dame

    1. Gillian Post author

      Thanks- glad you enjoyed it. I know very little about Margaret Beauchamp so am looking forward to reading your post about her. 🙂

  1. Elizabeth

    Well now they have almost certainly found the remains of the last lawful English king maybe we can have some open debate instead of Tudor lies and propaganda.
    Henry V11 had absolutely no legal claim to the English throne. He gained it through treason and French gold and foreign mercenaries.
    This woman is one of the most devious and evil women in English history. She has been convincingly fingered at having conspired to kill the two princes to put Richard between a rock and a hard place.
    If, as some suggest, Richard got the Princes out of the country to protect them and stop dissention then it is also convincingly argued that the real Lambert Simnel was the eldest and even more so that Perkin Warbeck was the younger.
    It was this evil woman who made sure he was hung and her hand can be seen in the extermination of other Yorkists like the Earl of Warwick.
    Hopefully finally the odium she deserves might just be coming her way when the English see through the 527 years of lies..

    1. Gillian Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth.

      I’ll be very interested to see if they have indeed discovered the remains of Richard III, and if they have, if this enlightens us greatly. I am curious about how he could be considered a legitimate king though as surely if his nephews were still alive during his lifetime, they had stronger claims on the throne than he did? I also haven’t seen any evidence to support the alternative claim that Simnel and Warbeck were genuine.

      Anyhow, I dare say these debates will never be fully resolved. I am not sure they can be- too much is unknowable and too much falls to interpretation and so I don’t think everyone will ever agree.

      As a historian, though, and one who has spent a fair bit of time looking at infamous women, I must say that I have never found “evil” to be a useful category to put anyone in. I don’t even find it helpful for Hitler, let alone someone like this. Your opinion of Margaret Beaufort may well be that she did wicked things, but evil is another matter- one better left to the pulpit, if at all, in my opinion. I think there is a great deal to admire about her, especially as she found herself in such difficult and unpleasant circumstances. Many of my historical heroes are people I would not particularly want to have been friends with, but we cannot judge by contemporary moral standards.

    2. Medievalgirl

      Just who has ‘convincingly fingered’ Margaret for having killed the Princes, apart from maybe Phillipa Gregory in her work of nigh on fantasy ‘The White Queen’?

      You may want to note that Lambert Simnel was claimed to be Edward Earl of Warwick, not Edward V, so how can it have been ‘convincingly argued’ that he was someone he never even claimed to be?
      As far as ‘extermination’ goes, what of what the Yorkists did to the House of Lancaster? The execution of two of the Courtenay and Beaufort Brothers, the murder of Henry VI? Edward IV even had his own brother executed. If evil is to be measured in how many people the respective historical figures had murdered or executed, the Yorkists may well come out on top. They were savage in their ruthlessness, willing to have even their own relatives and family members sent to the block-in fact it seems to have been the Yorksits who started the policy of executing any nobles captured fighting against them in battle.
      In a way the Tudors may be seen as following their example.

      And as far as the discovery of Richard III’s remains is concerned, it has confirmed that he did have a spinal abnormality, a notion that has long been dismissed as Tudor propaganda. So what said about him may be true?

      The Yorkist claim itself their may be even considered somewhat questionable. They held onto their power by conquest, murder and bloodshed. Evil does exist, and I think history can testify that the Yorkists were just as evil. malignant, and and ruthless as the Tudors, if not more-so

  2. Alan Ingram

    Hi. I have just found this site to follow some rather eccentric theories I have about Anglo/French politics in the late 14th and 15th Centuries, mainly around La Pucelle d’Orleans.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph. The word’ expediency’ seems to be the keyword. Even religious morals were extremely variable, the divine rights of ‘kings’ used as a ‘raison d’opportunité’ by both sides.

    One question intrigues me. In my studies I have found many cases where matrilineal rights were upheld over male lines, even where the Salic law was operative. I realise that in Margaret of Beaufort’s and Elizabeth Woodvilles’ case, that strong women could impose their wishes and have stronger blood ties than male pretenders but in lesser mortals it seems that ‘nobility in the second creation’ via a surviving female was very common e.g. Thomas Boleyn and Earl Rivers, who had 3 creations, the last being a woman. It certainly seems to have been a strengthener of Henry Tudors claims that he had Valois connection in both sides of the family, without the genetic fallibility to periodic madness. Do you have any views on this, especially with the fact that her husband explicitly asked for her to be his heir, and is said to have committed suicide!

    PS Why is Elizabeth Woodville so downplayed in history? She was Jacquetta of Luxembourg’s daughter [ and a Rivers to boot], husband of John of Bedford and heiress to one of the richest families in Europe.

  3. Pingback: Margaret Beaufort, a mãe de Henrique VII e sogra de Elizabeth de York | O Diário de Ana Bolena

  4. Bernadette

    “Edmund and Margaret married on 1 November 1455 when the bride was probably twelve years old. The Wars of the Roses had recently started and less than a year after the marriage, Edmund was captured by Yorkist forces. He died of plague in captivity on 3 November 1455, leaving his 13 year old widow seven months pregnant.”

    That is quite a busy couple of days they had!

    1. Gillian Post author

      Oops! A little typo there. Edmund died just after his first wedding anniversary, in 1456! I’ll edit that in the post now. Well spotted!


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